Monday, November 24, 2008

Toxic blogs and tastless jokes

Last Friday Crikey released the results of its poll to name Obama's new puppy. Among the choices were such ones as "Karl Barx", "A Poodle called Kevin", and my favourite "Joe the Dog". One of the choices however made me feel sick. It was "A mongrel called Trig". Trig, as you may recall is the name of Sarah Palin's youngest son, who has Down Syndrome.

Now making fun of any politician's kid is pretty low, (unless like Chelsea Clinton, they've decided to enter the political fray themselves), but to infer that a person with DS was a mongrel is about as low as you can get, and as the Dad of a girl with DS, I was pretty angry.

Now I am not a subscriber to Crikey, but I am a frequent commenter on PollBludger, which is a Crikey Blog. So in a fit of indignation, I posted on PollBludger that I would boycott the blog for a while as I didn't feel like contributing to Crikey's hit count. It was a pretty dumb response, somewhat akin to boycotting The Australian because I found one of the opinion columns offensive. But still, I thought I'd register my protest and so I also fired off an angry email to the editor, Jonathon Green.

I was quite comforted to see that a number of bloggers on PollBludger from all ends of the political spectrum (bearing in mind most are lefties) expressed agreement with my condemnation of the Trig "joke", and many stated they too were writing emails to Green.

Interestingly, Andrew Bolt had been alerted to the puppy contest and saw it as ripe for his ripping into the left (and Crikey in particular). Now I agree with his point on the very poor taste of the contest, but after reading some of the comments left on his blog, I wondered just how much he really cared about the issue.

Here was a comment made by one of his readers:

Trig Palin should have been aborted. Down Syndrome victims are not human. Human Beings must be perfect, not genetically challenged in any way.
If you don’t know that then, crikey, what have been reading lately?


Now I read that trying to find some humour in it, for surely the writer couldn't be serious (one would hope). But to be honest I couldn't even see what point the writer was trying to make - was it that crikey readers think that, or that crikey don't think that? It made no sense; so I decided to leave the following comment:

I will assume that [the writer] here is trying to make an attempt at being funny, or perhaps using “satire”, but I have to say it’s not funny, not good satire, and not worth getting past the moderator.
This made me feel more sick than Green’s disgusting joke.


My point was that here was a blog full of righteous indignation about someone inferring a person with DS is a mongrel, and yet the line "Down Syndrome victims are not human" got through without even a cursory "I trust you're joking" from Bolt (or his "moderator").

Then again caring about feelings is not a strong point over at Bolt's blog, nor is moderation. In his blog on the puppy contest, Bolt unaccountably linked it to Maxine McKew's comment after the election where she said:

Well I think Paul Keating got it right, you know, this election has wiped away the toxicity. People are smiling, a sort of sense of, we can get on and do things.
And I think we all want to get on and do things in a certain way, in a civil way, in a sensible way, and get rid of perhaps I think that brutishness that has characterised our politics probably since 2001.


So suddenly the poor joke was an example of the entire left being hypocritical, and the McKew herself is the prime hypocrite (and as he then linked, she is also absent from her post because some people interviewed by The Daily Telegraph had not come across her in her seat of Bennelong).

So then the issue of treatment of people with DS by "the left" (in truth one blog, which I'm sorry to say does not speak for all lefties - though perhaps I missed the memo on that, and everything written in Crikey does now represent the beliefs of everyone who didn't vote Liberal at the last election...) morphed into a commentary on Maxine McKew, which contained such unmoderated, uncommented, and (I guess in Bolt's view) non-toxic comments as:

Maxine the smirk McKew. The most hated woman in politics is certainly nowhere to be seen or found for some reason. Anyone know why ? Will the Liberal Party be fielding a candidate for Benelong at the next election ?

or:
McWho’s smile doesn’t look very convincing; appears the champagne socialista was uncomfortable being snapped amongst the great unwashed of the electorate whilst strolling down sh*t street ...

or
I do not know a lot about “Crikey” but I do know this. Leading up to the 2010 election myself and many others will do everything we can(including spending our own money) to remove Ms McKew from Bennelong and thats a promise written in blood.

Gee talk about spreading the love...

But, such comments are not surprising given Bolt, the day after his indignant blog about the puppy contest, wrote this:

Maxine McKew, who has never had a child herself, spooks me a bit:

"As Professor Frank Oberklaid and Professor Fiona Stanley keep saying, babies come out of the womb ready to learn.
Our job as policymakers is to ensure young children
have access to a calm, stimulating environment run by professionals..."

McKew, parliamentary secretary for early childhood education and child care, goes on to praise a school for three-year-olds. Don’t these little tackers just want - and deserve - their mums? Let’s not treat them too soon as government clients.

Excuse me?? Why is it important that McKew has not had children? How is that not offensive? I didn't realise you needed to be a parent before you could be a Minister of anything to do with children. I guess next he'll be having a go at Nicola Roxen for not being a doctor (she doesn't have kids either); or Kate Ellis for not being a professional sportsperson (actually no kids there either... or knowledge of sports trivia - which apparently Bolt thinks is imperative as the Sports Minister).

But look McKew really is at fault, how dare she have a career, and not shack up with some bloke at a young age and have a few kids? Why would she wait until she was 38 before falling in love with a guy. How dare she not put her career on hold at that point. I mean Lateline, 7:30 Report? Who needs them?

Oh well, at least Bolt ain't being toxic. Never mind that in his rant about her being anti-mother, he ignores what McKew wrote in the article that "spooked him":

The Wendouree West community has suffered for decades from a high level of disadvantage, intergenerational unemployment and children who have been disengaged from just about every level of education.

But a wondrous thing has happened. Through a dramatic change to the physical environment, Wendouree West has made a gigantic leap and created a school that functions for the entire community, and at all hours.

Mothers are enrolled in TAFE courses, their young children are on a different part of the site, either in playgroups or in pre-school, and primary school children are working away in beautifully designed learning hubs.

The change in the aesthetics and design has had a remarkable effect on behaviour. Parents now want to be involved with the school and, best of all, for the very young, pre-school participation has risen from a dismal low to more than 90 per cent.

Mothers learning new skills, with their children nearby. How horrible! But then I guess these mums shouldn't be going to TAFE, they should be home with the kids while the men do all the working and thinking for them...

But enough of Bolt. A few mates have told me I need to stop reading his blogs, as they only serve to make me annoyed. They're right. After all the reason I was annoyed in the first place was Crikey's utter insensitivity.

And so today I found this on Crikey, by the Jonathon Green :

There are moments as an editor - I’ve had a few - when you realise you’ve made a bad, bad call. This happens as often through the things you miss, or stumble over, or fail to give appropriate attention to, as it does thanks to the things you do resolutely, but wrongly, on purpose.

Crikey - and me personally - has copped a lot of blogosphere heat for running a poll to name the Obama puppy that included the candidate A Mongrel Called Trig. It was a reader suggestion, and it somehow made our shortlist, and then hopped onto the polling page. From there it was just a hop skip and a jump to the outraged comment strings of Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair and others.
There’s not a lot of love in those rooms.


We deserve our lumps here. There was no redeeming - or even comic - feature to what is just a dumb slur on an innocent child. The galling part of course, is giving ammunition to the billious rabble of the blogging far right. But what can you say when you’re so obviously in the wrong. Other than “I was wrong.” Which I was.

As I say, cop your lumps, learn your lesson and move on.

And with that I am back on PollBludger. We all make mistakes. What matters is how we act after making them. My concern was the Crikey folk were being purposefully vindictive - that they thought linking DS and mongrels was funny, but now I don't think they were - they were just being stupidly ignorant.

I believe Green's apology is sincere; and it is good to see. Some other blogs could benefit from doing the same thing occasionally. But then Bolt wrote a book called "Still Not Sorry", so I doubt we'll be seeing one from him.

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